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VOL. 129 | NO. 164 | Friday, August 22, 2014

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

The Skinny

By Dan Conaway

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THE NAKED TRUTH. Of the occasions I’ve been skinny dipping, two stand out. The first ended in an FBI interrogation and the other in front of a generation of city leaders.

The summer before my senior year in high school, a group of us made frequent trespasses to a secluded wet spot on a farm off Winchester. Elam’s Pond has long since been lost to progress and the airport, the girls and boys who splashed there those bright afternoons have long since become fully clothed and responsible adults – well, fully clothed anyway.

One particular afternoon, I saw something unusual beneath the mimosa trees on the far side of the pond – an abandoned Corvette convertible with four flat tires and out-of-state plates. When I got home, I called the cops and told them about it.

The next morning, Dad woke me up with an invitation to join him in the living room. Waiting were two dark-suited, sunglassed FBI agents – remember Efrem Zimbalist Jr.? – being beseeched by my mother, “But he’s a good boy – a good boy!”

Seems when a teenager reports a stolen car; the primary suspect is that teenager.

The summer of 1982, my Leadership Memphis class held their closing retreat at Pickwick Landing. We were the fourth class, and after I related the story of a previous retreat that ended in late night skinny dipping, the entire class enthusiastically headed for the dock to continue the tradition.

Leaving our clothes in a quick pile, two of us – she will remain nameless because you know it ¬– were in the lake almost immediately. As it turns out, the other 48 remained ashore; content to have us represent the class in the water and, judging from their laughter, quite happy about it. We swam a bit down the bank to a lonelier, darker dock and eased out of the water with a wide-eyed fisherman’s help – his jacket, and those wide eyes, went to her and I got a tarp.

Seems leading by example doesn’t necessarily cause everyone to follow.

However, I was subsequently elected alumni president and we both went on the board. After all, we had absolutely nothing to hide.

The point – you were wondering if there was one – is the freedom, the awareness, the empowerment that come from loss of pretense, from knowing exactly who and what you’re dealing with, and knowing that they know that about you, too.

That little group at the pond left their teenage angst, their concern about how they looked and who was watching, on the bank for a little while and became themselves.

That Leadership Memphis class began clothed in their respective colors and attitudes, dressed to the nines in custom-fit roles and tailored assumptions. By the closing retreat, all of that had changed because our view had changed, all of us able to see past the surface trappings.

We could see the whole city, warts and all, and we could see us in it together.

I’m a Memphian, and you haven’t seen it until you’ve seen it all.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

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